What I’m Reading: The Federalist Papers

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You might wonder why I wanted to attempt nearly 700 pages of essays written over two centuries ago. The simple answer is that the Federalist Papers are largely a bunch of essays defending and explaining the reasoning behind one of the greatest documents in the history of the world–the Constitution of the United States of America. And I thought it might be instructive to understand some of the reasoning behind this great document which preserves our God given rights.

Admittedly, some of this makes for very dry reading and some of the conclusions the authors (Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison) make seem rather self evident, but really this is because the United States, for the last two hundred years, has experimented with the very principles they were expounding on, and so they are ingrained into our very society.

At the time they wrote these essays, the ideas they were espousing were quite literally revolutionary thought.

The first sections of the Federalist Papers deal largely with enumerating the reasons why a joint union is preferable to a bunch of separate countries side by side on the North American continent. As the essays continue, proving their point with many well-reasoned facts, the authors float the idea that though they feel a strong navy will be necessary for the defense of the United States that a standing army will not be necessary and that in fact a standing army should be considered a danger to the liberties and freedoms of the citizens.

Further, a great amount of effort is spent in enumerating the checks and balances to ensure that though the Federal government has the necessary power it needs to ensure the safety and freedoms of its citizens that it is not so powerful as to usurp the freedoms of the people. Some of this is accomplished by dividing the power between the three governmental branches: Executive, Judicial, and Legislative and by not allowing a standing army.

These explanations are rather enlightening when explaining the terminology of the second amendment of the US Constitution which states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

At that particular time Hamilton, Jay, and Madison doubtless could not envision a future where the facility of modern transportation would shave an Atlantic crossing from three or four weeks to a matter of hours and so a standing army seemed superfluous to a strong navy.

The modern era has proven that the lack of a standing and ready military could prove disastrous, especially when enemy forces are capable of setting foot on far continents within hours of receiving the orders.

Some might argue that since the United States has a standing army it does not need a militia and this therefore invalidates the second amendment right for the citizenry to bear arms.

On the contrary, given the great concern expressed in the Federalist Paper over the dangers of standing armies being used in a tyrannical fashion to squelch the freedoms of the individual, it is evident that the right to bear arms would still certainly be considered of paramount importance by the framer’s of the Constitution.

One of the necessary counterbalances to tyrannical power is weaponry in the hands of the citizenry. No one in their proper mind would imagine that an unarmed man is on equal footing with an armed marauder. The second amendment is one of the guarantors that freedoms will not wholesale be stripped away by an overreaching and tyrannical executive, judicial, or legislative branch.

-Joel Jenkins
Author of Weird Action & Adventure Fiction

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